The Appalachian Trail is one of the most famous thru-hikes in the entire world! It’s a beautiful and scenic journey across some of the most diverse wildlife habitats in the world. Part of the draw of the AT is the chance to see wildlife that lives in the region. Despite the trail spanning multiple states, there are a few species that live across the majority of it. Birds are some of the most common sights that a hiker can expect to see, no matter the location or time of year on the trail. Today, we are going to take a look at some of the coolest birds you may encounter while hiking the Appalachian Trail!
What is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. It spans from Georgia to Maine and is a grueling six-month journey. Despite the difficulty, people from all over the world come to complete a thru-hike of the beautiful mountain journey.
Part of that journey includes spotting wildlife, a favorite pastime of many! For birdwatchers across the world, the Appalachian Trail is a hot spot for rare and unique birds. The differing habitats and elevations make perfect homes for a variety of species. Although we can’t cover every bird on the Trail, we have a few listed that you could possibly see while hiking.
Not all of these species are rare (although some are), but all of them are unique and a true beauty to behold. The American goldfinch, for example, is a common backyard bird that can be seen on the Appalachian Trail. Still, despite its “commonality,” seeing a vibrant yellow bird swooping low over a grassy bald in the North Carolina spring is what makes the trail so special.
A list of the coolest birds you could see on the Appalachian Trail
Here is our list of unique, surprising, rare, or cool birds you may see while on the trail!
Bald and golden eagle
Many people have no idea that the bald eagle is a resident of the App Trail! Bald eagles are majestic and represent freedom and strength. You are most likely to see them during the winter, as they spend the cold months in the mountains of Appalachia. These birds can be seen soaring through the air with their characteristic white head and brown-black bodies or perched on a tall tree.
The larger cousin of the bald eagle, the golden eagle, also calls the App Trail home. Golden eagles are rarer but are just beginning to take parts of their historic range back. Currently, the most southerly place to see them is North Carolina, with populations present everywhere else north.
The turkey is an important bird for many humans in the US! It’s hunted for sport and game but is also bred all over the country. The modern domesticated turkey is a far cry from its wild counterpart, and few people ever get a chance to see the elusive wild birds. Still, wild turkeys are present through most of the range of the trail. They can often be seen in groups, but good luck catching them! They also rarely let humans get anywhere close to them.
Wild turkeys are mostly brown, but males have a distinctive tail display and splashes of red and blue on their neck, head, and bodies.
The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on the planet. Additionally, it is the most widespread raptor on the planet! The peregrine can be found through most of the App Trail and can be seen diving from insane heights into valleys and rocky areas. These falcons are quite spectacular to see, but forested areas are likely to keep you from sighting one. The best place to see them is in wide-open areas like fields, lakes, or valleys.
The barred owl is one of the larger owls on the east coast and happens to live across the Trail. These owls are nocturnal, like other owls, and you are more likely to hear them than see them! Still, it’s quite possible you catch one hunting in an open area at night as they search for mice and other rodents.
The white face of the barred owl can be startling at night, but it’s a great tell as to what you are looking at. Additionally, barred owls are brown with white bellies and “barring” patterns down their chest and belly.
The belted kingfisher is a special little bird on our list. It’s incredibly cute and is known for its tenacious ability to hunt! These aquatic birds always live near water and hunt animals like frogs, salamanders, and small fish. They have long, sharp beaks and their bodies are usually blueish-green. Their heads often look like they have a small mohawk, giving them a distinctive look. The best place to see them is near rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams.
There are lots of woodpeckers across the App Trail:
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
These birds all have different levels of rarity, although all are quite a sight to see regardless. Most of them are black and white with some red on their heads. Some species have totally red heads, and others have yellow plumage across their bellies.
The purple martin is a member of the swallow family and is known for being the largest species in the group. Purple martins are beautiful to see due to the iridescent blue-purple plumage they have across their body. These birds are totally dependent on human-supplied nestboxes in Appalachia, so be on the lookout for any signs of these migratory birds near anything that looks like a human-made birdhouse!
The scarlet tanager is hard to miss. With vibrant red plunge and black wings, these beautiful birds are a sight to see. They breed across the entirety of the App Trail and migrate down to the southern US and Central America when temps drop. They prefer to nest in trees and forest, so deep in the trail is a good place to spot them.
The indigo bunting is a shockingly blue bird that is found across the entire Appalachian Trail. These small songbirds navigate during the night and have been proven to use the stars as their guide! Generally, indigo buntings nest in open woodlands and shrubs.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are always a dazzling sight to see. They are small, fleeting birds that flit around looking for nectar. Their high metabolism makes constant eating a requirement for them. As such, the best place to see them is around tubular flowers during the spring and summer.
These small birds are emerald green with a dazzling neck patch of ruby-red, giving them their name. Additionally, they are quite easy to identify.
American goldfinches aren’t a new sight for some birdwatchers, but they are always wonderful to see. They are known for a characteristic swooping motion as they fly close to the ground, looking for food. These bright specks of gold can be seen along the App Trail year-round, even in the cold parts of Maine. They usually prefer open woodlands, of which there are plenty along the trail.
Purple finches are one of the rarer sights on the list, although they are still seen! These songbirds are finches, giving you an idea of their size, but what makes them special is their gentle purple plumage. They aren’t a royal purple color like the purple martin, but blushing pink-purple. As described by Roger Tory Peterson, the finch looks like a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.”
Purple finches can be seen along the trail in the southern regions during the breeding season and are year-round residents in the northern regions of the trail.
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